The brief existence of a federal program that made it safer for undocumented immigrants to seek help from police led to the reporting of about 7,500 more incidents to the Dallas Police Department than local authorities would have received otherwise, according to a study.
The finding underscored criticism from advocates, municipal officials and local law enforcement that hardline federal immigration policies requiring police to share data with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency eroded trust between police and at-risk communities and diminished their ability to protect the public.
In a working paper, Elisa Jacome, a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University, focused on complaints reported to Dallas police between 2013-2016, in order to assess the effect of the Priority Enforcement Program on local police operations.
The program was established in 2015 to replace the so-called Secure Communities Program which allowed ICE to issue “detainers” for individuals in state or local custody who were suspected of violating immigration laws. Individuals found in violation were deported.
The program was ended by the Trump administration in 2017.
Jacome found that the number of incidents reported by Hispanic individuals to Dallas police increased by 10 percent once PEP came into effect. That translated into roughly 7,500 more incidents during the year-and-a half of the program’s existence—an estimate she said was probably “conservative.”
Her findings demonstrated that “weak trust between immigrants and law enforcement may undermine law enforcement agencies’ ability to keep communities safe.”
Jacome was particularly interested at analyzing the impact of PEP on Hispanics, who now make up the bulk of individuals targeted for immigration offenses. More than 40 percent of Dallas County is Hispanic, and undocumented immigrants account for an estimated 20-25 percent of the county’s Hispanic population.
Anecdotal evidence has suggested that under Secure Communities, even legal immigrants avoided contact with police for fear that undocumented relatives in their household would be identified, and face deportation. Before PEP was launched, more than 2.3 million individuals living in the U.S. were detained and deported between 2008-2013.
Significantly, Jacome said she also found that PEP did not make it any less likely that an immigrant who was convicted of a serious crime would be detained.
She concluded that removing the disincentive for Hispanic individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety to contact police for help or to report crimes “can enhance trust between immigrant communities and the police.”
When PEP was introduced, then-President Barack Obama said it would direct federal agents to focus on deporting “felons, not families.”
But the shutdown of PEP has generated a fierce struggle between current federal immigration authorities and cities and state that have enacted measures prohibiting their police departments from cooperating with the ICE detainer program.
So-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions that, in effect, duplicate the PEP program in their own communites, have been threatened with a cutoff of federal funding for police as a result.
The issue has again emerged in this year’s midterm elections.
A major challenge to the sanctuary concept is now playing out in Oregon, where Measure 105 would axe a 31-year-old law passed with bipartisan support barring state and local police agencies from assisting in federal immigration enforcement.
Andrea Williams, executive director at Causa, an immigrant rights organization that oppose the measure, recently told The Crime Report that immigrants or people perceived to be immigrants would be especially harmed by the measure.
“Trust is the foundation of good policing,” she said. “But when police play the role of federal immigration agents, many immigrants will be too afraid to call them, cooperate with them or show up to testify.”
A new report commissioned by advocacy groups finds that tech companies, including Amazon and Palantir, are of special importance to immigration authorities “due to their involvement at multiple points in the profiling, tracking and apprehension of undocumented persons.”
Jacome said the results of her research are also consistent with the idea that “increased community-based policing is important for improving public safety and the effectiveness of police departments.”
But she cautioned that without similar data from other cities, “it is difficult to come to any definitive conclusions” about the nationwide effect of PEP on crime reporting.
A full copy of her working paper can be downloaded here.
J. Gabriel Ware is a TCR news intern. Readers’ comments are welcome.